“You game everything, don’t you,” said Katie as we pulled into the driveway of our house in San Francisco after spending a weekend together in the California wilderness. As usual she had selected precisely the right words to name an element of my character that I spend most of my time being proud of, and to communicate: “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
I grew up on games. The memory bank of my life includes many happy hours playing everything from hearts to chess to monopoly with family, friends and strangers. Games are not primarily about competition. Striving to win is merely the context for wiring the brain to be effective in defining a goal, designing a path to the goal, developing the skill to achieve the goal, and feeling accomplishment. Learning and practicing strategy and tactics are critical for success of any sort. Athletics wired my brain for cooperation as well as keeping my body in shape. Sports kept my spirits up when the game of school got me down.
Yes, gaming wired my brain and helped me be successful. Katie’s observation, however, made me aware that I had driven the last four miles from the Golden Gate Bridge to our house gaming how to dodge as much of the Sunday traffic as possible. Maximizing efficiency and minimizing driving time had made me minimize my time with my daughter. In the kindest loving way she had made me aware that I had been playing a game instead of being with her. I was ashamed.
Half-way through third grade, my little brother Jeffrey is in the process of learning how to win at the game of school. A slow reader, he nonetheless loves books. Although his body would rather be in motion, he is capable of sitting, listening and completing assignments—most of the time. Fascinated by social dynamics, passionate about issues of power and authority, and possessed of third-grade notions of fairness, he is learning how to play the social game and to stay out of trouble at the same time—most of the time. He will learn the game of school.
What is most delightful about Jeffrey, however, is that he is still very much in possession of his soul. His concern for his relationships is paramount, his commitment to integrity is palpable and whatever catastrophe has occurred, joy is not far below the surface. At 11:45 he bounds into the school library where I wait with a pizza. In his hand he has four worksheets of arithmetic problems mostly incomplete or wrong, but his face beams, and we delight in the fact that we are together. If doing worksheets is how we will spend our time together, then so be it. Worksheets it is.
My hope for Jeffrey is that he learns to play the game of school without losing his love of life, his joy in relationship and his genius for being in the moment.